“If you’re not happy here, then go back to Africa!” a coward yelled at a group of us as we marched toward the Football stadium to protest the university’s handling of threats to Black football players. But seriously, how many times has this been said. It certainly wasn’t a new idea.
Several times throughout American history there have been movements whether initiated by the community or racial majority to either return or send descendents of Africans back to Africa. Last year marked the “Year of Return“, to mark 400 years since Africans first landed on “American” soil. Concurrently, protesters were chanting “send them back” to US congresswoman, Reps. Ilhan Omar ( a first generation American), Rashida Tlaib (a second generation American), Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (a 2.5 generation American) and Ayanna Pressley (a descendant of American slaves). And against the background of dissent, travel groups, like Travel Noire, Tastemakers Africa, and Black and Abroad ignited the latest trends in migration of Black Americans and second genners visiting and contemplating relocating to Africa.
As my boy Hasan, explained, going back always remains an option for immigrants and their descendents because subconsciously we know our time in the US is temporal. Whether by force or voluntarily, many second generation kids are seeing the curse and benefits of their duality.
Rap artist J Doze, (born Jonathan Udeozor) understands these dialectical tensions well. Jonathan was born in Maryland to two Nigerians who fell in love in L.A while pursuing their advanced degrees. Being Nigerian-American wasn’t something he gave much thought to until high school where he realized he felt out of place, not just because of his individual eccentricity, but also because he was a Black boy with a “weird” name. In retrospect, he realized his best friend from elementary school into high school was an American-born Venezulan-Peruvian. He says, it’s easy to live like you’re just anyone else, without limitations of your skin color until you realize just how significant your skin color is to your social experience. William Cross refers to this as the encounter stage in Black racial identity development.
When he was a child, his mother was charged with three crimes: involuntary servitude, conspiracy, and harboring an illegal alien for financial gain. The person in question was a young relative his father helped to bring over from Nigeria to assist his family of six children. Hosting extended family members, and receiving help in the home is not unusual for many immigrants. Jonathan says that many people stayed with them throughout his youth and he viewed the person in question as an elder sister. In many cultures outside of the US “house help” is common as it is a mutually beneficial agreement. The family gets assistance, the help gets shelter, social support, and possibly some sort of pathway to citizenship. But the American legal system did not see it this way. The police came to their home, apprehended their mother, a practicing medical doctor with two offices in the Maryland area and put her in prison. Even though she was found not guilty for involuntary servitude which was the main crime, a jury still decided she was guilty conspiring and harboring an illegal alien for financial gain. A judge sentenced their mother to 7 years in prison, and she was deported last year after being promised she could continue with her family practice. It certainly seemed their hard working mother who had successfully accomplished the American Dream (career, family, home) had her dreams stifled by a biased American justice system.
“You feel White in the sense that [the history of] slavery is never in [the back of our minds] until something happens [to remind you] we are not just any ethnicity being here. . . . .There are many opportunities to succeed, but if you do run into trouble, you are now Black and face the system [as such].”
After trying to maintain the home without parents, two of the children eventually left Maryland to live in Ohio which led to a fracture in Jonathan’s home life, his sense of security having no parents, and thus his identity. For years, Jonathan says that he was angry. He channeled his anger through his writing. As a teenager he blamed his father for everything that happened, but as he grew older he began to see his parents as victims of a system which was not made for them. Inspired by life events, messages about his identity were always a part of his lyrical storytelling, but when he reconciled with his father and pursued his rap career more seriously J Doze became intentional about sharing narratives of being Black, Nigerian, and American in his music. Tracks like “All the Other Kids“, “Us vs. Them” and “IDentity Slaves” each tell the story of the complexities of not fitting the mold and being minoritized. Though he sees himself as both Nigerian and American, his Nigerianess comes second to his experience as a person of color when in the United States. From Jonathan’s perspective, while the experiences of Black immigrants and their descendents and descendants of slaves may be different, our realities are the same.
“As a Black person, I am the same as any other Black person, except the fact that I do know that I am from Nigeria. But I feel the same way they feel.”
One of his most recent tracks “85 to Africa Freestyle” was inspired by Jidenna’s song and album by the same title. J Doze explained that this track was an expression of his journey into understanding his own identity as someone in between two lands, two cultures which sometimes conflicted. But make no mistake, perhaps like many children of immigrants born abroad, J Doze acknowledges the gift of this duality in shaping and sharpening his perspective.
At 27-years old, he was planning his first trip to Nigeria, unsure of what he would discover, but hoping to make more sense of himself. Visiting his father’s home in Anambra, which he had started building when the kids were little so that Jonathan and his siblings would have a place to come back to, gave Jonathan perspective about the dreams of his parents and many other immigrants to keep their children connected to their roots. To give them a home away from “home.”
His visit to Nigeria wasn’t all pleasant though. He encountered some “area boys” who threatened to throw him and his family over a bridge if they didn’t give them some money for helping them with their broken down vehicle. Though it was alarming to have such an encounter, Jonathan understood that it wasn’t that Nigerians were inherently violent. It was that there was a system of inequity which birthed such desperation from otherwise creative and ingenuitive people had they had the resources. Seeing the developed posh neighborhoods of Lagos island, the rundown streets always a few blocks nearby, and observing the inequality around him, the rapper concluded that while there were notable differences between the United States and Nigeria, there were also similarities, both good and bad. And for him Nigeria was rife with opportunities for advancements for diasporic Africans, like himself.
“There are a lot of great things about America, but there is a non-negotiable about being in America. . .We have heard about what there is to like, but we haven’t had a strategic conversation about what there is to dislike”
When considering the incessant rate of slain innocent Black bodies and contemplating the recent debates about Black people defaulting to the democratic party which also have ignored the Black community’s concerns, J Doze offers a rebuttal with this freestyle track stating, “I can be Black and still have other options.” Jonathan encourages Black people in America, first-generation, second-generation, and descendents of slaves to resist the iconography of Africa as an inhabitable jungle and consider Africa as a second home. A place to belong. A place to thrive. A place where it is okay to be Black.
Inspired by artists like Andre 3000 and Big Boi, J Doze’s style is eclectic, eccentric, and thought-provoking. His most recent album is a collection of seven songs which capture his spiritual journey and reflections on purpose and identity. To listen to more of J Doze’s music, you can find him on Instagram, YouTube and Apple music.